Revisiting Huntington’s Legacy in the Post-Christchurch times

Mohammad Saif

The recent diabolical attack on the people of the Muslim community in New Zealand, who were there for offering Jumah Salah (Friday Prayers) in Christchurch, very clearly explains the popular apprehensions in the West about the non-western immigrant and non-western civilization as a threat to them.

But these types of unfoldings of events were earlier predicted by some world public intellectuals giving them a color of a fault line between the Christian West and the Islam. Popularized through some events and empirical turn, Samuel P. Huntington was a great one among them.

Huntington was among the most plentiful and influential political scientists of his generation. His legacy has become inextricably linked to a Foreign Affairs article published three decades ago. In his article The Clash of Civilizations (1993), Huntington put forward the idea about what the post-cold-war world might look like and the debate has not been abandoned since then.

Huntington believed that the center of the world was shifting and the conflict would be defined by culture rather than ideology or economic premises. Nation-state, argued Huntington, would remain as the main actor but the conflict would occur between the nation and group of different cultures, and “fault lines between the civilizations will be the battle line of future”.

The current attack on Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch is one of the most important testimonies of being true of Huntington prophecy. The choosing of particular place and community by the killer uncovered the nature of hatred and clash simmering in the mind of like-minded people. This denotes the sense of Islamophobia and cultural threat to their western community by Islam and also the fear of domination by Muslim immigrants.

Is so-called Islamization of the west a threat to the natives’ culture and religion? While in Newzeland just one percent is the total population of Muslims, is it another phase of the debate? Growth in migration since globalization booming during 90s, As a result westerners increasingly fear “ that they are now being invaded not by armies and tanks but by migrants who speak other languages, worship other gods, belong to other cultures, and, they fear, will take their jobs, occupy their land, live off the welfare system, and threaten their way of life”.

Huntington was wrestling through the challenges of what “culture” was to look like in a globalizing world. The challenges that Huntington was facing as he looked at the conflict that would occur in various instances between “us” and “them” was primarily about understanding better what “us” meant in the new world and clash thesis was a part of how he sought to work out to understand those relationships.

Why is it a touchstone for nearly all contemporary debates about the capacity of different groups to live together in relative amity, not enmity? Because it exposes the hope and fear of globalization and its perfect imagination of post-cold war world scenario of conflict. After the defeat of the USSR, it was also the trend that enabled the religion to resume its long-abandoned place in global politics.

Exiled to marginalization after 1648, the sudden demise of the cold war and the USSR and its secular ideology, opened the way for new focus on “culture”. Reciprocal response by the US after 9/11 was real proof of the clash of civilizations between the “Christian West” and the “Islamic world”.

Huntington viewed in 1993 Islam as the great threat because “they hate us”, in 2004 he saw Hispanic immigration as the great danger because they aren’t us. It was not about hate, it was about us. If civilizations were the main fault line of the international politics “we” would be just “us” at peace with ourselves in our own place and everyone else in theirs.

The author is a research scholar at the Department of Political Science, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh.

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